bike poem

"In my late 20s I learned..."

    something I could have
                should have
                      might have wanted to learn
                      when I was a small child

except that Dad died.

The bike came the year
I stopped believing in Santa
which was because of the bike
which could not have possibly
fit down the chimney.

The bike: I couldn't quite
      get the hang of it
despite his efforts

and then he died.
He died and Mom couldn't
      help me learn either.

So the bike went in the garage
until it was too small.

Besides, no one bikes in LA in the 80s anyway.

All through my middle 20s
C. wanted me to learn
        how to ride a bicycle.

When we met he had the
         John Deere tractor green bike
that he rode on those steep
         Tacoma hills.

Except when 
         I came through the park
         to his apartment
         and we walked to work together.

That was how everyone knew
         we were a thing, us walking
together, him with the hand-painted green bike.

He tried to take me bike shopping.
I was terrified of being 
that far off the ground
         and of moving at a speed
          faster than walking.

Looking out the window
of my first office, first real 
grown-up profession,
and he's on the phone
explaining how, no -- really--
I have to see this bike
               it's totally different
       from all the other times --
       five -- six -- seven years of
               "you should get a bike."

But really -- it is different.

The bike is different,
        the shape of it isn't so scary
                and maybe by then
        I'm different too.

Because I get on and after
a wobbly how-do-I-start-this moment
I'm moving and pedaling
         and somehow the whole thing 
       stays up and is a sort of 
           miracle not unlike flying.

bike commuting

So the thing I knew I was going to miss most, even before I left, was my commute. No offense intended to my coworkers or the credit union, but it was a pretty amazing bicycling commute. Five miles, which is a nice distance, long enough to be a workout, short enough to not be totally wiped out. And 95% of it through wooded bike trails. No traffic, great scenery, not a lot of hills.

The commute to Evergreen, on the other hand…seven miles, no trails, huge hills both directions. (Really, honestly: uphill both ways!) So for the first month I just took the bus, because it’s incredibly convenient and free. But I do miss cycling…a lot, and this is the time of year where normally I’d be riding 10 miles almost every day.

Last week I started doing a partial-bike commute: ride my beat-up old Townie to the transit station downtown, then catch the bus the rest of the way, then reverse to come home. Means that the morning ride is incredibly fast (I can top 20MPH pretty easily), and the sweaty uphill ride is on the way home.

Yesterday…I went a little crazy. I had PT in the morning, and decided to take the Xtracycle “just in case” I wanted to ride further towards work than usual. I rode ALL THE WAY in, 10 miles altogether from PT, with a stop at a grocery store for water & baby wipes. I was exhausted but euphoric. Riding home was somewhat more stressful. Google Maps recommended a different route coming home, and it looked feasible. However: the trail part was bumpy & buggy; I had to make a left turn across a five-lane, 45MPH road; a lot of it was bike lane on a fast busy road; I had to cross another major arterial at a crosswalk at a complicated intersection; and I hit a stretch so steep that I walked about 3 blocks. Coming up the hill the other side of downtown I was going so slow I realized I could walk faster than that. Sigh.

Still, I’m glad I did it. I know it can be done, and I know I’ll do it again. (Almost certainly NOT taking that route home again. C made a suggestion that sounded good that I’ll try next time.) Hopefully by the end of summer I’ll be riding more of the route more regularly.

Bike vs car, taking a long view

Just a thought too long for Twitter, not entirely thought out and probably totally obvious….

Re bicycles vs cars: infrastructure is key. If the facilities for bikes are poor, then it’s scary to ride a bike. Which means that the people who are going to ride will be people with a high tolerance for risk, thrill-seekers, or otherwise pretty agressive. And those are people who are likely to flout the law or otherwise be “in your face” about whatever they happen to be doing.

So motorists (and to a lesser extent pedestrians) see aggro law-breaking cyclists and think: fuck those guys.

Which means they’re less likely to support just the kind of facilities that us boring, cautious, law-abiding cyclists need to feel secure enough to ride.

And that’s a damn shame.

As a cyclist, I’d just ask (my fellow) drivers who are also voters to please just look past that jerk who’s doing dumb reckless stuff. If you support nice places to ride, nicer people will come ride there, and thrill-seeking jerks will have to find another outlet for their bad impulses.

Thanks. 🙂

Update, 9/15: More on bike infrastructure & lawful riding.

What I did on my summer vacation

As it turns out, almost all of the 85+F days we’ve gotten this summer were last week, which was also my vacation and my birthday! I hardly touched the computer; for the most part we alternated between bicycling and watching Harry Potter movies – or Star Trek: Voyager.

On my actual birthday, we biked downtown for coffee and a trip to the Farmers Market. ERN called while I was there and we chatted for a bit while I watched the bees in the garden at the market. We biked home by way of the fancy beer shop, where I picked up some ciders…and EAN called, and we wished each other mutual happy birthdays. 🙂 Did some laundry, talked to Kat, had some BLTs — which were awesome!

The tomato was a gift from a down the street neighbor. A couple of years ago, when we had a ginormous pile of wood chips in the front yard, a couple of little girls came over and asked if they could take some. They took a few wheelbarrow-loads, and we thought nothing more of it. Then one day (Labor Day weekend?) they came over with their dad with a box of tomatoes, some chard, a cucumber, and a little squash, as a thank you gift. So sweet! I gave them a jar of pickles, after we had talked about canning for a bit. The last of the tomatoes went on my birthday BLT.

Then, of course: ride to the river! (I biked to the river on every even-numbered day of my vacation, which I totally didn’t plan.) Set out a bit later than we would’ve liked, so we ended up riding in the hot part of the day. Happily, a great deal of the trail is shaded and there was a pleasant breeze. And of course the hot ride made the cold river even more delightful. As I said to some random person: “It’s fucking freezing, and then it’s awesome!” Dunked in the river a couple of times, had some snacks, basked in the sun. And then our friend L and her boyfriend showed up totally out of the blue! So that was lovely. We stayed late, until the sun passed through the trees and came out on the other side. (In this photo of the river, the stand of trees on the left side.) We all rode most of the way back together as the sun fell low in the sky, arriving home at dusk. The ride was glorious, perfectly pleasant temperature, and I just flew down the trail.

I ended my day with a trip to the Fred Meyer (yes, really), steak and fries, root beer float, cake, movies, and a Lego set. 🙂

It might end up having been my last summer ride to the river this year; today the heat wave broke, and I don’t know that we’ll see another stretch of heat. I’m happy that on our other rides last week we managed to push a little further before doubling back to relax on the river. I had my longest ride ever at just shy of 32 miles. Next year I’m hoping to bike all the way to the Quarry Park in Tenino to swim and camp. It feels doable now, which is something to keep me fired up through the winter to come.


Things of note:

Costochondritis (ie, “chest wall pain”), which causes chest pain, pressure, shortness of breath, etc. – all that stuff that sounds remarkably like a heart attack when you describe it over the phone to a nurse. That would be the first day of my vacation, the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Hours in the ER, just hanging out waiting. In all seriousness, I cried when the doc said it wasn’t a heart attack, because, well: I lost 50+ pounds in order to avoid that fate. Unfortunately, exacerbated by bicycling up hills, at least with my current stem setup, and recurred on my first day back to work after the vacation, when I tried bike commuting.

Rain. One of the rainiest Septembers ever. Ever. Plenty of it during my vacation. (Chilly, too.)

Server crash, because some jackass on some construction project took out some chunk of the internet. Took out the connection to online banking; not the main website, except that there was some sort of horrible backwards cascade that DID take out the server, and then there were issues with the backup server. And I could not do a single thing. (Plus, as it happens, I came in before 6am that day to update Drupal, which went fine, but couldn’t leave until I’d heard something about the server, even thought I couldn’t do anything. Talk about loopy.)

Spider bite, although no idea where exactly, or what spider either. Reaching down to scratch my calf: huh, that’s itchy. Oh My God that’s itchy. And red, and kinda swelled up. But had to go to a meeting that had been hard to get set up. So Urgent Care after that, all they can say is, huh, looks like maybe a bug bite? Next day foot & ankle swollen double-size, can’t walk, or hardly, and finally something that actually looks like a specific bite spot. It did go down, back to normal, after a few days…and some oral steroids courtesy my normal doc. (Who, by the by, is also now having me take bunches of ibuprofen for that chest wall thing. No, I still haven’t gotten a new bike stem to try out. Yay procrastination & indecision.)

And then rounded out the last week of the month with three days in a row of volunteer meetings, including OMG SO DAMN BORING LECTURE (please don’t tell anyone I said so), which meant damn little downtime.

Plus more car commuting this month than, well, ever. Not terrible, but more tiring than I’d’ve expected. Everything in September was more tiring, to be honest. Didn’t even manage to keep up with August’s pace of freewriting, let alone make any progress editing NaNo ’09.

On the plus side? Visiting with some friends the morning of my birthday (with coffeecake!), hanging out with librarians at Table for Olympia, being really organized putting together the ENA newsletter. That, and yesterday pulled out the stops and was the nicest day in pretty much the entire month. Then today I went to a writers’ group at Orca Books, and that was quite inspirational. Plus I have two more days off, which also look to be pleasant weather. But mostly I’m just trying to run down the clock without anything else insane happening, and without complaining too much about the month that was.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.

A year of Xtracycle

I bought my Xtracycle last July, which means I’ve had it a year now. I think I gave a six-month progress report, which was favorable. And after a year? I still love it.

Near as I can tell, I’ve put at least 2300 miles on it since I first got it home. I have a bit over 1800 miles on the cyclometer, but I didn’t get that installed on the bike until September. Guesstimating July through September gets me 500 miles (50 miles a week times 10 weeks), assuming JUST commuting. I wouldn’t be surprised, if I went back to my journal from last summer, to discover that it was half again as much, what with all the rides to the river and around town. Nor does that include many trips of less than a mile for which I didn’t bother to pop in the cyclometer. So what, 2500 miles? How far is that, exactly? Really damn far.

And: A+++++ would ride again. That’s the short version, anyhow. In more length? I love love love being able to carry whatever around town. A change of clothes to work? No problem. A gallon of milk on the way home? Sure! A big bag of library books? But of course, and why not the laptop, too? My personal maneuverability limit is way less than the weight limit, so I’ve gotten nowhere near that so far as I can tell. But that leaves a hell of a lot of stuff that I can carry.

My personal favorite, of course, is taking all the stuff I need for a leisurely day at the river, and being able to go out to the river not in the car, but on the gorgeous trails. Which means: towel, water, snacks, ciders, cooler bag (with some of that stuff inside), change of clothes, book, camera. And not really that heavy, either.

People ask me if it’s heavy to ride, or cumbersome, and I don’t find it so. I’ve never been that nimble of a cyclist to begin with, so it suits my steady rambling style. It does mean that I find other bikes bogglingly light, though.

As for people asking: I would say that about every second or third time I go somewhere I get comments or questions. “What is that?” being the most common, alternatively: “Cool bike rack!” I’ve got a short spiel worked out by now: “it’s a kit that bolts onto the back of any normal bike. I like it because I can carry stuff. I bought mine pre-assembled.” Often followed by “It rides really well” or “Yeah, the deck does kinda look like a skateboard.”

As an aside: It seems that I have a flair for picking unusual ahead of the curve bikes. Six years ago when I got the Townie that style was really new and different around here, so I got lots of questions about that. Now with the cargo bike. For someone who’s not into cycling, it’s an interesting (micro-)trend. (I suppose I should credit C, who introduced me to both.)

And the drawbacks? It’s a pain to haul or store. We’re still working on a long-term storage solution, since now both of us have Xtracycles. (We make quite the pair riding around town, IMHO.) Dealing with the rear brakes or drivetrain can be frustrating and messy, which is probably why I let my rear brakes wear down way too much this spring. The edition of bag that I have doesn’t strap down very well so I never feel like I’ve got it quite right when I redo it after cleaning. And the big logo is fugly. (I gather that the last two are dealt with in the latest version.) There are a few issues with the front part of the bike, which aren’t really Xtracycle-specific. I still need to go get that new stem and/or handlebars!

The biggie, for me here in the Northwest, is dealing with the Xtracycle in the rain. It’s just not designed for the winter part of our climate. The bags aren’t waterproof, nor do they drain well, and the deck fades and peels. I’ve come up with a medium-term solution, something in the “good enough” category, namely draping a poncho over the deck and securing it with bungees. I’m sure it looks terribly ghetto, but damned if it doesn’t work. And since it’s bright purple, it helps with visibility. What I would *like* to do is to get the plastic version of the deck and a couple of waterproof dufflebags, but I don’t know when I’ll ever get around to it.

But all that said, I’m so glad I got my Xtracycle. I feel happy riding it, and happy looking at it.

Here’s some photos:

The oldest jacket

I’ve been thinking about a formspring question that Kelsey answered the other day: what’s the oldest piece of clothing that you still wear regularly?

Because lately I’ve been wearing that very thing: my old Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra Vienna trip jacket from the summer of 1989, when I was a teenage girl playing the viola.* The local youth orchestra was invited to perform at the Vienna youth and music festival (this one?), and we did a two week trip in Germany and Austria.

That trip was the farthest I’d ever traveled — and honestly, still the farthest to this day — I’d only left California to go to Arizona to visit my grandparents. For the first time I experienced forests, big rivers, lakes, mountains: all those things that I came to love about the northwest. I suppose I’d seen some of those things at Big Bear, or on vacation in the Gold Country, but not in that sort of moist temperate climate. Cool summer weather, too; I distinctly remember going on a boat tour under steely-grey skies. It was probably the first inkling of the kind of place where I really wanted to live.

Like any big event, the trip exists in my head as a kaleidoscope of images, sounds, smells, tastes: I got a taste for “fancy” mustard in Germany, I played Barber’s Adagio in the courtyard of Vienna City Hall at dusk, I watched Scarecrow & Mrs King dubbed in German. 🙂 The whole trip was one of those unforgettable experiences — not really immediately life-changing, but an expansion of my view.

I remember being overwhelmed by history in quite a few locations: standing outside of St Stephan’s cathedral in Vienna, and not even being able to fathom a single building being in a single place, used for the same thing, for all that time. “Old” in LA means before World War II, or at most the Spanish Missions: maybe 200 hundred years? Still astounding to me even now, the difference in scale of time.

The people I traveled with were for the most part people I’d known through junior high school, had been in orchestra with, gone to music camp with, and I went to school with probably a third or more. It was a visit to a new place, but embedded in something of my normal life. So I remember moments of feeling my social isolation very intensely, and moments of being in a groove hanging out with friends. More of the former, alas, although at the same time I remember really enjoying some times of wanted solitude. There was a castle we went to on a tour, and I skipped the tour to hang out in the gardens and forest. I may have missed the tour, but oh how I loved walking there by myself.

I got my hair cut in Vienna in my hotel room; I wish I could remember who started it, but it turned out to be at least a dozen people standing around, giving suggestions, or heckling. (The boy I’d had a crush on a few years earlier exclaimed in mocking tones that they were destroying my hair. Or something.) It was actually a pretty decent haircut, looking back at old photos, not terribly unlike the cut I had recently. When I got home, all Mom ever said was: “it’s hair. It grows.” I’ve taken that as my motto re: haircuts ever since.

I think it was also the beginning of growing out of a bad attitude towards the boy who’d had a crush on me in junior high. (Hey there, if you’re reading; tell me if I’m totally flubbing any of this!) I got a penpal through one of the other musical groups, and she thought said boy was dreamy. Which struck me as totally weird, as did her obsession with New Kids on the Block — why yes, it was 1989 — but in some corner of my brain it broke my hard-and-fast antipathy towards him.

As for the jacket itself, it’s white with a Tournament of Roses logo on the back, surrounded with lettering in maroon. It’s got a bit of an 80s flair to it, especially in the collar. The jacket was part of our informal concert uniform, which was completed with white pants and a maroon polo shirt. Who in the name of $DEITY thought that white pants & jackets on teenagers was a good idea?!

I hadn’t worn it since high school, but I kept it out of nostalgia, moving it from box to box over the years. It went out of fashion, or I thought it was dorky, and then I gained weight and it wouldn’t have fit anyway. A couple of years ago, after losing weight, I was cleaning out one of those boxes and started trying on some of the nostalgia clothes. Several things fit that hadn’t in a long time, and the jacket was one of them.

More curiously, it turned out to be just the thing for a particular situation, one which has been happening lately: bicycling in cool but not cold weather, when I’m not expecting any rain but need just a bit of an extra layer. So the last few weeks I’ve worn it with my bike clothes on my morning commutes. It’s comfortable, and I think the (still!) brilliant white makes me a bit more visible. I’m happy I never tossed it in my many moves and cleanouts.

* I played viola from 3rd grade through my freshman year of college. I was never particularly good, probably because I balked at practicing. But I enjoyed it, and paid for lessons out of my allowance in junior high and high school (several different great teachers), and got to go to music camp, and played at Disneyland, and, well, went to Europe. Good times.

Our weekend

Friday afternoon I got an impromptu haircut appointment at Jamie Lee. C decided to come with me, but I had my bike ready first, and since I was already running late, I went on ahead.

What happened next, from my point of view: I got downtown, locked up my bike, and said hi to Jason. I mentioned that C was coming and that he wanted to share an idea he had for my hair. I suck at explaining hair stuff — which explains some of the goofy cuts I’ve had over the years — and my hair as of yesterday was short, but huge & fluffy in the front. It drove me nuts during the heat wave — I was on vacation, too, so no hiding from the heat in an office building. But even after Jason and I chatted for a bit about how my hair was making me crazy, C hadn’t shown up. So we went & got my hair washed. Which was delightful, getting my head massaged: I had an all day stabbed-in-the-face headache.

C still hadn’t arrived when we came out, so we just started at it, or rather, I made some aimless gestures, and Jason did the cutting. And he still wasn’t there. I figured in the back of my mind that he’d met up with a friend, or got distracted at the coffeeshop, although admittedly neither of these things are very much like him.

When I was done, I took a look at my phone and saw that I’d missed a call from “Private” — 99% of the time, that’s Mom’s phone, and on a Friday afternoon, that’s likely to be Elizabeth calling to chat, or ask if the scrapbook arrived (yes, it did). But there was a voicemail, so I checked it while unlocking my bike.

“This is Officer [X] from OPD, calling about your husband. Please call me right away at [phone].”

I had to listen to it three times before I got the number right; I even called a wrong number after the first time I wrote it down. But I finally got in touch: he’d been in an accident, was at the hospital, was ok. Something about sutures. At which point things went a little blurry: I asked if he could take me to the house so I could drive to the hospital. I asked the folks at Jamie Lee if I could stow my bike there. (Yes and yes.)

When I got to the hospital, he was in a hallway, laying on a gurney (?) with gauze wrapped around his head.

So, from his point of view, it went something like this:

He was a few blocks behind me, coming down the hill fast, and was behind a truck. It turned without signaling, and after that it was a blur. The next thing he remembered was sitting up against a tree, holding his shirt to the back of his head. Someone brought him a washcloth. Then more blur, then the EMTs arrived to put him on the backboard & take him to the ER. Somebody wrapped his head, maybe a little too tight, and then he was left in the hallway.

He was not wearing his helmet.

[stifled cursing here]

He did get all cleaned up and examined pretty quickly after I arrived. Eventually they worked out that he had basically roadrash on the back of his head, less of a cut than a collection of little divots. Probably hit some gravel. The doc put four staples in to close up what he could; the nurse gave him a lot of ibuprofen and a tetanus shot.

And then we went home. Somewhat to my surprise, he wanted to go to a party we’d been invited to downtown. We walked down, and on the way, stopped at the intersection where the crash had happened. I found a couple of pieces of his sunglasses and the washcloth.
His blood was still on the roadway.

The whole thing makes me a little dizzy to think about, honestly. He was ::this:: close to something really genuinely horrible.

Today he’s in crazy pain — in addition to the head wound, he’s got a couple of massive bruises and some other roadrash. Plus of course everything is stiff and sore. But the ibuprofen seems to help, as does entertaining videos.

I’ve got some photos — the back of his head, the blood-soaked shirt, the pavement — which I may or may not post. But basically, you get the idea: wear your fucking helmet when you’re on the road. Both cyclists and motorists are traveling too fast, and there aren’t enough shared facilities, for us to be acting like Europeans, no matter how much we want to.

PS: the bike was fine. As in, you’d never know anything had happened. It’s kind of freaky, actually: was he teleported off of the bike?!

cat + xtracycle

A while back I emailed the “roots radicals” list, which is a group of mostly Xtracycle enthusiasts, asking for advice on carrying a cat on my Xtracycle. I got some really useful tips, including a few photos. This post is modified from a follow-up email I sent the group.

Saturday I finally had a chance to put them into practice taking one of our gang to the vet for his booster shots. I put on the wideloader that had been collecting dust in the utility closet and then sized up the carrier — the larger one we own wasn’t going to fit, but the smaller one did, just barely. I was able to get the straps positioned to hold it fairly sturdy.

Then I took it off again and put the cat in. 🙂 He was already pretty mellow (napping FTW!), and he was chill while I got the carrier strapped in. It wasn’t too hard to get the carrier off and back on at the vet, I wouldn’t really say any more time than coming around to the passenger side to take him out of the car.

I rode much slower than usual, partially to compensate for being a little off-balance, partially so he wouldn’t freak out. He was entirely quiet & relaxed, except while we were waiting to cross a very busy street, when he made the usual cat-cooped-up crying noise. I’m wondering if the sound of the traffic was getting to him. Coming home we were able to get across that street without a wait, and he was quiet the whole time coming back.

Admittedly, I live *really* close to the vet — about 2 blocks — so I don’t know how it would have been if we had to go farther or on higher-traffic streets. But I’d definitely call the experience a success.

Considering your biking experience, if you had to buy a new bike what would it be and what accessories would you have on it.

My first impulse is to think about upgrading the bike part of my Xtracycle – something with a step-through frame and more upright handlebar position.

But an entirely new bike?

I’d like to get a basic mountain bike at some point so I could try out trail riding. I test-rode a Giant Rainier, which I really liked, but all they had at the time was a small, which was way dinky. 🙁

I’m also partial to bikes in the dutch/cruiser/upright style, generally speaking, although it’s tricky sometimes finding ones that have enough gears for the Oly hills. There’s nothing specific I have in mind at the moment, though.

Accessories, on the other hand, I have more opinions about….

Fenders, always. I’ve had Planet Bike fenders on two of my bikes, and they’re pretty decent, although stylish wood or metal fenders would be fun.

Lights, too, of course. I’d love to get something like the B&M Ixon. ( And the Radbot tail lights look pretty cool:

Rack & panniers; if I were getting a non-longbike, I’d want a couple of different kinds of panniers, both water-proof and open, a bit like the combo that I was rolling with on the Smoke & the Townie. EcoVelo has highlighted some that look quite lovely and functional. I’m also a big fan of the rack trunk for a minimal travel kit, and a front rack or basket would be spiffy.

I’d love to upgrade my cyclometer, ideally to something super-high-tech (Garmin?) or even use an Android phone as a cyclometer.

I adore my bell-brand bell, but if I were to replace it I’d go with something very similar, maybe even a classy brass bell. There’s nothing like that cheery ring!

A rear-view mirror, definitely; the el-cheapo (fred meyers for less than $10!) one I have now is ok enough that I haven’t done a lot of research into anything else. I tried a glasses-mounted mirror and HATED it, and I have a hunch helmet-mounted would be the same.

I like the ergonomic style of grips, with a bit of a spot to rest the heel of my hands. The cork grips on the Ute were nice as well.

Oddly enough, I don’t have a strong opinion about saddles. The one I have now is women-specific, it’s not super, but it’s good enough. I’ve always wanted to try a Brooks saddle, though. 🙂

Whew, that’s a lot of stuff! And I haven’t even gotten into clothing, gloves, helmets, etc. At the minimum, I’d say fenders, rack, bucket panniers, basic lights, non-stock saddle.

Oh, and a bottle cage. They’re hard to find, which I find weird, but I like the softer plastic versions, because they don’t scratch metal cups/bottles.